Man charged in Pritchardville murder had been helped by victim and her family

sbowman@islandpacket.comAugust 1, 2013 

A Pritchardville woman killed Wednesday had "been nothing but nice" to the man accused of murdering her, according to the owner of the campground where the suspect was living.

In the 10 days before her murder, Melanie Lowther and her husband, Barry, had given the man a camper to live in. She had purchased groceries for him and his girlfriend. She had even given them some money, Bill Ronquest Jr., manager of the Stoney Crest Plantation Campground said.

But Lowther allegedly caught the man burglarizing her business -- operated out of a home on Barefoot Alley -- and he killed her by hitting her on the head with a metal object, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Lowther, 60, was found dead at the business by her daughter at about 8 a.m.

Walter William Glass, 41, was denied bond Thursday on burglary and armed-robbery charges in connection with Lowther's death. The Magistrate Court appearance was his first since his arrest Wednesday.

He remains in the Beaufort County Detention Center.

Glass also is charged with murder, but because magistrates cannot set bond on that charge, he will be brought before a circuit court judge, probably later this month, according to authorities.

Glass' girlfriend, Rebecca Joe Pope, 43, also was arrested Wednesday on an unrelated misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession, after officers searching the camper Glass and Pope shared discovered the drug.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner did not rule out further charges against Pope.

The investigation continues, and authorities have found a folding knife that might also have been used in the attack on Lowther, Capt. Bob Bromage said.

Glass was arrested Wednesday at the camper he was living in at the nearby campground soon after Lowther's body was discovered, Bromage said. Deputies also recovered money and jewelry believed to be owned by the Lowthers.

Bromage said the preliminary autopsy results indicate Lowther was killed by blunt force trauma and that a "sharp force injury" contributed to her death. That suggests a second weapon: A nail remover investigators identified Wednesday as the likely weapon, as well as a folding knife, Bromage said.

The nail remover was found near an abandoned house between the campground and Lowther's business -- Collins Septic Tank Service, which she ran with her husband, Barry. The knife was found in the camper during the officers' search, Bromage said.

Glass was identified as a suspect after a witness spotted him on May River Road at about the time of the killing, which occurred between 7 and 8 a.m.

Glass and Pope, checked into the campground June 16, according to Ronquest, the Stoney Crest manager. He said that the couple arrived without money or identification, claiming their car had been broken into on Hilton Head Island and their wallets stolen.

Ronquest said he let Glass and Pope, who listed a home address in St. Augustine, Fla., stay in a tent for free. In return, Glass helped do lawn work around the campground.

Another camper gave Glass a bike when the couple's car was totaled in an accident as they drove to the Walmart in Hardeeville.

"Everyone was trying to help them, especially Barry and Melanie," said Ronquest, who has known the Lowthers for more than 10 years. "He had us all fooled. We all thought he was a really nice guy just down on his luck."

Barry Lowther met Glass about 10 days ago when Lowther came to do septic work at the campground. Ronquest said Barry Lowther wanted to help Glass and Pope.

So Barry and Melanie Lowther gave them the camper, which they had at their business, so they wouldn't have to stay in tents any longer. They also gave Glass some work with their septic business, Ronquest said, but he wasn't sure what kind.

Sheriff Tanner, who grew up near Melanie Lowther and knew her most of his life, said that was just what the Lowthers did: help people.

"Both of them have hearts the size of Beaufort County, and they are always trying to reach out and help people," Tanner said Wednesday. "This guy took advantage of it."

Glass' arrest Wednesday was his first in Beaufort County. He told Judge Ned Tupper during Thursday's hearing that he has an arrest record elsewhere but was not violating any parole or probation terms by being in South Carolina. Glass did not provide further details about his arrest record.

Glass was born in Tennessee, according to the Detention Center log. A man by the same name and with the same date of birth has been charged 17 times in Tennessee on charges that include aggravated burglary and aggravated assault, according to online records.

Florida records indicate a Walter William Glass, also 41, has faced five charges there between May 2011 and March 2013, including fugitive from justice and possession of marijuana charges.

Pope's arrest was her first in Beaufort County. A woman by the same name and of the same age has been charged several times in Florida on charges including possession of marijuana and possession with intent to sell.

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